Monday, September 19, 2011
Envious of Generosity
No, it burns!
Jesus tells the parable of the vineyard owner who needs workers. He hires one crew early in the morning for "the usual daily wage." Three hours later, he is bringing in another group that he finds standing idly and agrees to pay them "whatever is right." He does the same thing at noon, at three in the afternoon, and finally hires a crew for the last hour of the work day. When it's time to give everyone their wages, the ones who had been working all day are expecting a bigger paycheck. But they find that everybody, including the ones who had only worked an hour, got the same wage. They stamp their feet. They pound their fists. They mutter under the breath about the "unfairness" of the whole thing. But the vineyard owner notes that this is his money to give out. He'd said they'd get the usual daily wage... and he fulfilled that contract. And he asks, "Are you envious because I am generous?"
In the ministry of helping the unemployed and underemployed, I hear similar complaints. Why do we help the homeless when the middle class is getting squeezed to the point of wondering if they will be the homeless? Why don't we notice the person sitting in the pew and hurting for lack of work? Why are recently unemployed state workers getting all the media attention while the long-term unemployed have been forgotten? (The latter can be answered simply: large employer, massive lay-offs=media coverage).
I understand the frustration. Is it that people care more for the truly destitute than the almost-destitute? No, not necessarily. Mostly, I think people just aren't aware of how much pain is sitting around them in a church because those inside the sanctuary don't appear to be in such dire straits as the person begging on a street corner across from the church. What is sad is when the almost-poor begin to begrudge the really destitute what little charity is offered to them. That does recall this question of being envious of the generosity.
Just like with the loaves and the fishes, I think the point of this parable is that God is generous, and will give us exactly what we need. There is no need for us to look to the right and to the left to figure out who is getting more because what we need is right under our own noses, and we should be focused on and paying attention to that; not what the other guy got.
And I find this parable in Matthew speaks to something even more amazing and profound, especially for those of us who refused to open the party invitation from God until later in life:
God is always inviting more people into the vineyard... and even if they only spend the last hour of the day in the vineyard, they too are showered with grace. As I prepared my spiritual autobiography for my EfM class, I was overcome with how it doesn't matter to God when we come into the vineyard to work: God just wants us to put on our work gloves and join in picking the fruit from the vine. Later, we'll eat grapes and press some into some of the smoothest wine imaginable! Welcome to this party where the abundance and generosity overflow. We don't need to be envious of this. We just need to enjoy that we are part of a celebration. And this is one party invite that is a true open door and not a pink slip into hell.
I'm not saying that God will be giving out paychecks and health benefits. Sadly, those are things that are more of Caesar's realm, not God's. But my encouragement to those stuck in this jobless rut is to avoid the side glance to see what everyone else is getting or not getting in the way of assistance. That's a sure-fire trip to anger and resentment which will exude from your pores and make you an "undesirable" employee. Keep your eyes forward, lean into God and ask for help, and be ready when your plea is answered even in truly unexpected ways.